Again and again, and especially during the election season, we read in the media about "people of faith," "religious Americans" and "value voters" -- and what is meant, in almost all cases, are Americans who are conservative in both their religion and their politics. There is nothing wrong with being a conservative, of course, but we liberal people of faith like to point out that there are other kinds of believers in America. In fact, there are a lot of us.
What exactly does it mean to be a liberal person of faith?
It means to believe in God, to have deep religious convictions and to be offended whenever media voices pour scorn on religious people.
It means to draw on religious teachings and beliefs when making judgments about matters of public policy. But at the same time, it means to know that when we, as people of faith, make a public argument, we must ground our statements in reason and a language of morality that is accessible to everyone -- to people of different religions, for example, or of no religion. After all, we recognize that other believers have religious convictions different from our own, and in our diverse democracy, Americans need a common political discourse not dominated by exclusivist theology.
It means to understand that "person of faith" does not only mean the Religious Right; it is, in fact, an inclusive term, referring to both liberals and conservatives and to Christians and Jews of all persuasions, as well as to Muslims, Hindus and believers from other religious traditions.
It means to always bring a measure of humility to religious belief. In making our religious judgments, we liberal persons of faith draw on the sacred texts of our tradition, but we don't claim to have a direct line to heaven, and we aren't always sure that we know God's will.
It means being concerned about the poor and the needy, and giving a fair shake to all. When people talk about God and yet ignore justice, it feels downright wrong to us. When they cloak themselves in religion and ignore mercy, it strikes us as blasphemous.
It means to believe that sanctity exists in the commitment that gay couples make to each other. We recognize that more conservative religious people are likely to see this matter very differently, but we oppose, absolutely and unequivocally, unprincipled gay bashing and hateful rhetoric that fuels the hell-fires of anti-gay bigotry.
And it means that we share many of the concerns of conservative people of faith. Like them, we are concerned about the coarsening of culture that makes it difficult to raise honorable, decent children. Like them, we worry about trashy TV and the erosion of the family. And like them, we believe that the public interest does depend, at least in part, on private virtue -- even as we know that justice requires not only good individuals but also the actions of government.
And finally, it means that we welcome dialogue with our fellow citizens who have a more conservative religious viewpoint. It seems healthy to us for people of faith to talk about how our differing religious perspectives help us understand the issues of the day. After all, we have all put our trust in America, the most religiously diverse country in the world. And we all believe that tolerance is an American value. So let the dialogue begin.